'Winners Announced in 'Virtual' ICAST New Product Showcase - Few Surprises
'Virtual' ICAST a Good Effort,
But Let's Not Let It Become Part of a 'New Normal'
The COVID-19 coronavirus has done nearly immeasurable damage this year, to the economy and people's lives. So many events have been cancelled, trips of a lifetime postponed or foregone forever, family events and important rituals banned or restricted. One casualty was the American Sportfishing Association's annual International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades) show, commonly called ICAST. Traditionally staged in Orlando, Florida, the show brings together the sportfishing world: manufacturers, distributors, retailers, outdoor media and more. The show floor is always a fun place to visit, typically lively with an outdoor lifestyle vibe. This year there was no show floor, but ASA tried to salvage at least some of the spirit, deciding to stage a "virtual" ICAST.
More than 200 exhibitors signed up for the virtual show. While it pales with the excitement and tactile capabilities of an actual show, it represents a noble effort, nevertheless. One challenge, for me, was parking my butt in a chair for several hours a day and gazing into a computer monitor. Many exhibitors had an array of videos, media materials and promotional spokespeople explaining products. Interactive sessions enabled visitors to join discussions or presentations about new offerings. I even sat in on a couple conservation webinars. I visited many online "booths," asked a few "Chat" questions, and scrupulously assessed - as much as possible anyway - the entries in the always popular New Product Showcase, sponsored by Fishing Tackle Retailer. As a voting media registrant, I am permitted to vote for the best new products across 30 categories, as well as the coveted "Best in Show." It's a job I always take seriously.
I like to personally examine the construction of a fishing rod, feel the smoothness of a reel, test a soft lure's texture and elasticity. Obviously, this was impossible with the virtual New Product Showcase. Some virtual new product presentations were well conceived, backed with multiple images, videos, tech specs and more. I like plainspoken explanations of the new stuff, contrasted to gobbledygook “technology” often touted in a new product. Some shared the suggested retail price – something that is standard for new products displayed on the actual showcase floor. I loathe hunting for that information. People should be able to readily tell what something is going to cost. As expected, the number of new product entries was markedly down. Lure offerings were a fraction of that normally entered and only three new boats, all made by Old Town, were in a category that usually has a couple dozen.
One thing noted is that production lead times for many new products seem elongated this year, doubtlessly due to blips in global supply chains.
Winning products were announced via video July 15 at 5:30 p.m. Winning a “best new product” accolade has been a big deal in the past. Many high-profile, well-resourced companies throw a lot of marketing dollars at it. Their entries are often line extensions of an existing model or a “new” reel that switched the type of metal used in a rotor or the drag system. I picked 11 of the 30 category winners and would have picked 18 if I voted with my head, knowing that some companies (Yeti, Shimano, Costa, St. Croix, Plano, etc) employ promotional machines and often corral enough votes.
Some entries this year (every year) have me wondering if they're entered in the right category. For example, the Best Rod and Reel Combo was the Abu Garcia Virtual Casting Combo. Yet, the main feature seems to be an app that lets anglers log data regarding a catch and cues a phone to be ready to snap a photo. To me, this is more appropriately an Electronics Category entry. Lures can be confusing. The Band of Anglers' Hyperplastics Dartprop Pro features a soft body center with hard propellers fore and aft. It won Best Freshwater Soft Lure. Yet, in the Best Freshwater Hard Lure, the winner was Z-Man's ChatterBait Jackhammer Stealthblade (my pick), which features a hard polycarbonate blade and metal jig head with hook (obviously) dressed with a soft plastic skirt. Many lures are "mixed media." To me, remove the hook and what remains should dictate the category.
I asked Ken Duke of Fishing Tackle Retailer for insight. He explained that entrants can choose their category (within reason) and have control over their product description (and thus what they choose to emphasize). "As a general rule," Duke said, "the primary focus of the lure is controlling. The Dartprop is primarily a soft bait (high-tech plastic) with some 'hard' hardware, thus it fits in Soft Lure. The ChatterBait is merely a jig with a blade, and jigs have historically been classified as hard lures. Again, the emphasis is put on what the fish would target if it decided to make a meal of the thing!"
And, The Winner Is!
Outdoors Rambler Comments and Selected Products
Note: Many of these new products aren't featured yet on company web sites. Links provided where available.
Cold Weather Technical Apparel
There are plenty of early fishing mornings when there is a bite in the air, and you know that boat run is going to be darn chilly. Yet, a couple hours later, you may be wearing t-shirts. Stopping the wind is essential for warmth and comfort. AFTCO’s Reaper Windproof Jacket is made from a stretchy, soft shell, rip-stop fabric with a warm fleece lining and integrated micro-fleece face mask. It’s not the most stylish garment, but I don’t care. I want to be warm, not fashionable. Available this fall for $99.
After a day of fishing, it’s nice to make fast work of the catch. One powerful Rapala electric fillet knife I own remains a favorite, but it isn’t cordless. The new R12 Heavy-Duty Lithium Fillet Knife Combo (rapala.com) operates at twice the speed and three times the torque of other cordless fillet knives. The company advertises 80 minutes of continuous runtime with the lithium ion batteries delivering consistent speed and torque without reduced power as battery power wanes. A power gauge keeps you apprised of remaining battery power. The combo comes with 6- and 7.5-inch stainless steel, non-stick blades a 2-amp rapid-charging base and two battery packs. The suggested price is $175.
Do you love me? How much - $1,149 much? If so, you can gift your special person a Garmin quatix® 6X Solar marine smartwatch with a titanium band and power-replenishing feature that uses the sun's energy to extend battery life up to 24 days. The watch is preloaded with specialized boating, fishing, cruising and sailing capabilities, plus other health and activity tracking features. If it could be turned into a weapon, James Bond would have had one. Available now.
The “Bi-Partison Topwater Fishing Lure Pack” featuring Trump & Biden figures rigged a la topwater frogs was a close second. This was an actual entry - maybe? Not - #FAKENEWS. The Trump Topwater fishing lure is touted for catching HUGE fish, the biggest fish, catch your personal best bass on every cast. There's No Malarky with the Biden Lure. It GRABS fish every time. Hahaha...
Actually, if you want to gift someone a fairly inexpensive product they'll love, get them a GCI SunShade Rocker. They also make the rocker without the shade. These are popular in backyards, campsites, fishing piers, etc. They have a patented spring action rocking technology, mesh backrests, phone pockets and beverage holders. Plus a bag for carrying. I love these chairs!
Why the KastKing Speed Demon Elite Baitcasting Reel? Simply put – speed. This new reel has a 10.5:1 gear ratio and winds in 42 inches of line per turn of the handle. It also has 10 + 1 double shielded stainless-steel ball bearings and up to 18 pounds of pressure via the triple disc carbon fiber drag. Plus, it’s affordable with a $120 suggested price. I knew Shimano's Vanford 2500 Spinning Reel would win and I'm sure it's an awesome reel, but it's in that higher-priced range - $250-$400.
Rod and Reel Combo
Lew’s has won this category for six consecutive years. Why? Because they pair really solid rods and reels at a great price. The Lew's Mach Crush Combo got my vote, even though it’s one of those tweaked models of yesteryear. It is available in both casting and spinning models. The casting combo features a 32mm spool, high strength Speed Gears, a 10-bearing system, 95mm handle & Winn Dri-Tac handles on the reel. The rod is built on a nano tech IM8 graphite blank with new, proprietary “Full Contact” reel seats. The spinning combo suggested price is $179 with the casting combo at $199.
Freshwater Hard Lure
Z-Man’s JackHammer StealthBlade chatterbait got my vote. First, This company makes great lures – love their soft plastics. Next, I love fishing for smallmouth bass in clear, cold water where you can see 20 feet deep. This lure seems like one smallies would attack and stop cold in its tracks. So, it got my vote. It is equipped with a clear polycarbonate blade that starts thumping as soon as you start retrieving. The hook is a lighter wire, fluorine nanocoated hook dressed with a hand-tied silicone skirt. Comes in two sizes and available by mid-August. Earlier versions cost about $15-$16.
Lifestyle Apparel for Women
Simms all-new Women's Challenger Jacket and Bib are built with a waterproof/breathable 2-layer Toray fabric and boast a women's specific fit. The jacket features an adjustable hood, a center-front zipper with a waterproof storm flap, a chest pocket with a built-in sunglass chamois, and handwarmer pockets. The bib comes equipped with a pass-through handwarmer pocket, plier port, and knee-high zips for easy on/off. Jacket and bib sold separately.
The Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot™ is a high-end, high-tech fishing machine that leverages Minn Kota's Spot-Lock technology enables fishermen to motor to their fishing spot faster and effortlessly keeps them there. Anglers can command the kayak with the touch of their thumb using the i-Pilot remote. The patent pending AutoPilot™ revolutionizes kayak fishing, delivering the most advanced fishing platform on the market.
Humminbird® CoastMaster™ charts deliver captains the information to fish and navigate with confidence, with complete coverage for all U.S. coastal waters on one card. Anglers can identify fish-holding areas by utilizing detailed depth contours, points of interest, navigational aids, and predictive tides and currents. And as part of the One-Boat Network™, anglers can pair a Humminbird chartplotter and Minn Kota® trolling motor with i-Pilot® Link™ to automatically follow a depth contour.
The Hardy Ultradisc UDLA Reel is a lightweight disc drag reel with an innovative, original spool/line guide design for use with ultra-thin fly lines and running lines as well as leader only systems for popular Euro nymphing fishing. Scaled to size multi-disc carbon drag system is unregulated to allow for smooth, fine adjustment of the drag pressure across a wide range. Available in gun metal or black anodized finish in prices ranging from $325-$400.
The Under Armour Micro G Kilchis won the category. The product description has lots of gobbledygook. From what I could figure out, though, it has breathable uppers, quick-drying materials, a foam midsole, water drainage ports, and non-marking outsoles. The heel, apparently, isn't very rigid letting you slip into them like moccasins. The other entries in this category were line extensions from other companies. I like the original Xtratuff deck boots, but just shortening the height by a couple inches doesn't make it a new boot, in my opinion.
Rapala's Strikemaster Lithium 24V helps lighten the load when venturing out to ice fish. Gas-powered augers can be heavy. This new lightweight auger head combined with the popular Lite-flite lazer drill lets you drill 100 holes per charge with the 6-inch drill and 50 holes per charge with the 8-inch drill. It's perfect for the run-and-gun angler who likes to spread things out.
Saltwater Hard Lure
Shimano's SP-Orca 150 Flash Boost — Blue Sardine Color is a sinking pencil bait is equipped with Shimano’s revolutionary Flash Boost Technology (haha - love the naming of this stuff) to constantly emit a fish-attracting flash, even on the pause. Flash Boost Technology suspends foil on small springs inside the lure body with placement and movement designed to mimic the movements and flash of an injured baitfish. The lure comes with 3X hooks and split rings, through-wire construction and Shimano’s Propulsion Weight Transfer system for increased casting distance.
St. Croix’s popular Mojo Inshore Series is all-new for 2021. Mojo Inshore’s transformation begins with lighter, upgraded one-piece SCIII carbon blanks, further enhanced via Integrated Poly Curve (IPC) mandrel technology. Featuring full cork handles on light, medium-light, and medium power models. Medium-heavy, heavy and extra-heavy power rods have been upgraded with full-length cork and EVA combination handles. Retail prices range from $160 to $230.
Saltwater Soft Lure
The Band of Anglers' Hyperlastics Dartprop Pro SK is similar to the ever-popular DartSpin™ from Hyperlastics™, but instead of a molded-in will blade, you’ve got a prop on the front and the rear of the lure. Cast and Retrieve, let it sink to fish at different depths. Although it is a sinking model, you can speed up your retrieve, to give yourself a nice topwater prop bait presentation. The body of the lure will give it a big minnow action, while the prop on the tail will have erratic motion.
Lunkerhunt’s Bait Shifters make rigging baits fast and easy, while offering a natural presentation fish can’t resist. Featuring a unique hollow chamber, Bait Shifters allow Bait Shifter Jig Heads to slide on and off quickly and effortlessly, eliminating tears and ensuring a straight thread. Bait Shifter Minnows, Shad and Shrimp are available in natural feeding patterns that mimic common freshwater/saltwater gamefish forage, as well as reaction patterns that drive fish wild.
Lifestyle Apparel for Men
AFTCO Saba Recycled Seam-Free Boardshorts is AFTCO's first product to integrate recycled material into the fabric. Built with a sustainable 88% recycled polyester/12% spandex fabric, they are the lightest shorts ever built by AFTCO.